Perceval Landon (1868-1927) was an English writer and journalist, now best remembered for his classic and much reprinted ghost story "Thurnley Abbey".
His first name was the surname of his mother, daughter of the Rev. and Hon. Arthur Philip Perceval, through whom he was collaterally related to Spencer Perceval. His own family of Landon was of French Huguenot descent, having migrated to London in the 1680s at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
Life and career
Perceval Landon was born in 1868 and educated at Hertford College, Oxford. While at Oxford, he was one of the original subscribers to John Woodward and George Burnett's Treatise on Heraldry British and Foreign (1892), and he had a lifelong interest in heraldry.
He was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple but in 1899–1900 he was War Correspondent of The Times during the South African War. He was also involved, with his close and lifelong friend Rudyard Kipling and others, in a daily paper called The Friend started by Lord Roberts in Bloemfontein during the Boer War. This South African experience launched a career of world travel, journalism, and other writing, so that he described himself in Who's Who as "special correspondent, dramatist, and author".
Landon was private secretary to the Governor of New South Wales 1900; in 1903 he was special correspondent of the Daily Mail at the Delhi Durbar, in China, in Japan and in Siberia; in 1903–1904 he was special correspondent of The Times on the British military expedition to Lhasa, Tibet; in 1905–1906 he was special correspondent of The Times for the Prince of Wales' visit to India; and after that he was in Persia, India, and Nepal, 1908; Russian Turkestan 1909; Egypt and Sudan 1910; on the North Eastern Frontier of India and at the Delhi Durbar, 1911; in Mesopotamia and Syria, 1912; in Scandinavia and behind the British and French lines in 1914-1915; behind the Italian lines and to the Vatican in 1917 (the war and Vatican visits with Kipling); at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919; in Constantinople, 1920; in India, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine 1921; on the Prince of Wales' tour of India and Japan, 1921-1922; in China and North America 1922; at the Peace Conference in Lausanne, 1923; in China, Nepal and Egypt 1924; and in China in 1925 (source except where noted: Who Was Who).
By this time, in 1925, Landon was 57 and had travelled constantly since the age of 21. Landon for a time had a cottage in the grounds of Kipling's house, Batemans, in Sussex. His address in 1907 was at Pall Mall Place, St James's, London, and, by the time of his death in 1927, his final address (from Who's Who) was 1 The Studios, Gunter Grove, Chelsea, London.
He died unmarried on 23 January 1927.
Landon's ghost story Thurnley Abbey was originally published in 1908 in his book Raw Edges. It is reprinted in many modern anthologies, including The 2nd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, The Penguin Book of Horror Stories and The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings. It is reminiscent of the stories of M.R. James. A man named Alastair Colvin is travelling on a boat with the narrator, and asks the narrator if he can sleep in his cabin, even though he has his own. The narrator is surprised by this but Colvin then narrates his tale which involves his travelling to Thurnley Abbey, recently inherited by Colvin's friend, John Broughton, who has recently taken ownership of the old abbey. A Mr. Clake, the old retainer who had lived at the Abbey for many years, is reputed to have put about that a ghost haunts the Abbey, and seemed to have delighted in the fear that this had caused. Locals believe it, and though the new owner makes light of it, he seems not to be entirely convinced that it is not true, and after arranging for Colvin to stay overnight, asks him to "talk to it" if he sees a ghost. Colvin spends the night in the house and encounters the ghost - an experience which changes his life. Henceforth he is afraid to sleep alone.
Ramsey Campbell has called the story "That most terrifying of English ghost stories". He reprinted it in his anthology Fine Frights: Stories That Scared Me (NT: Tor Books, 1988)
Raw Edges also included the ghost story "Mrs Rivers's Journal" which Hugh Lamb has reprinted in his anthologies Gaslight Nightmares 2 and "Gaslit Horror".
As well as his journalism, Landon published the following books:
- Heliotropes, or New Posies for Sundials, written in an old book partly in English and partly in Latin (1908)
- Lhasa: an account of the country and people of Central Tibet (1905)
- Under the Sun: impressions of Indian cities (1906)
- 1857, The Story of the Indian Mutiny (1907)
- Raw Edges; studies and stories of these days (1908)
- The House Opposite (n.d.)
- For the Soul of the King (translated from the French, 1909)
- Nepal (1928).